Soweto-born digital artist, Puleng Mongale’s collage work and self-portraiture are a portal into a sublime world where black heritage and ancestry is immortalised with matriarchs as protagonists.
By: Blacklight writer
Main image: Cravings of a city girl ll (Puleng Mongale)
The artist, who hails from Orlando East has become one of the most fascinating modern artists that have found a way to utilise the digital space and social media, to capture the rapidly growing online audience.
Despite only transitioning into a full-time artist in 2019, her works display impeccable artistry, skill, and immaculately capture our often disregarded history and heritage. She says creating the works was a very cathartic journey of self-discovery. “That is one of the most interesting things about creating, it reveals you to yourself. The messages and questions are personal but through the process of creation you come to certain profound revelation, which is what resonates.”
Before picking up the camera in September last year, Puleng was working as a copywriter and worked for a few reputable advertising agencies. She holds a BA in English and Communication Science from the University Of South Africa (UNISA). She later enrolled at Umuzi, a creative-hub in Johannesburg, where she amassed creative skills which further emboldened her as a budding creative.
Blacklight gets up-close and personal with the upcoming artist.
Blacklight: How do you personally define your work?
Puleng: I believe it’s spiritual and healing work. The work uses me as a vessel and forces me to look back on what has been – history – and to also centre myself in the world that I exist in. The themes that I addressed were not necessarily pressing issues for me at the time, but the work took a life of its own and brought new messages forth to me. As a result, the work became bigger than my understanding; hence it’s hard for me to define. The feeling and the context changes with every piece, but the common thread is that I am changed by it, everytime. In the beginning, my collages were more from a style-basis, but as time went by everything started to take on a new form. It became a transformative experience where the universe channelled through me these stories which I then got to investigate.
BL: Would say there was a particular event that was the catalyst to you yearning to delve more into the themes that you unpack through your works?
P: Subconsciously, those were the questions that I needed answers to at time and so subconsciously they came out in the work. I also believe that being an artist has forced me to look outside the norm for answers to the questions that are bothering me. Instead of operating from a point of logic, there are times when I have to rely on prayers and guidance, which is about getting back to a space that reaffirms our belief that we are always guided on this life journey. It’s about surrendering to the order of life – where things just happen without explanation. We are living in an interesting time where we are on information overload, but there are still certain answers that the internet does not have, which we have to personally go and investigate or experience (through lived experiences) in order to get the knowledge. Through sharing our experiences, we then get to be some sort-of reference for other people having a similar experience. I believe that it’s important for us to know that someone else has experienced whatever we are experiencing. It’s very empowering and liberating to know that whatever we are experiencing someone else has also had a similar experience too.
BL: What are some of the discoveries you have made through the process of creating this body of work?
P: I made a lot of discoveries through other people’s views. There are always discussions around the work of an artist and not everybody experiences it the same way. Our job as creatives is just to create and not get too caught up on the views. Artists are human beings too and how we approach our art is not always set in stone – as we create we discover more of ourselves. Sometimes people don’t agree with us and sometimes we are not progressive thinkers as everybody believes we are. We work more with the gift of feeling. I am not trying to create work that is correct or right, I am simply trying to document or tell stories.
BL: How does your work come together?
P: I usually get a feeling or an urge to express something. I will conceptualise it in my head because I have a bad habit of not writing things down. The process usually starts with the imagery. I will take some photographs or I will source some of the images I don’t have access to. Then after working on the imagery, I will begin working on the collage. There is a lot of editing, changing and moving things around. I let the feeling guide me because I am simply reimagining worlds or moments.
BL: You studied English and Communication Science and then worked in advertising. What heralded you to make the leap into art?
P: I have always been a creative, but I kind of took the longer route – sometimes that is how it’s meant to happen. I would also say lack of exposure to information led me to believe that becoming an artist was not an option for me. I studied English and Communications because I thought that that was the closest and safest way I could get to being a creative, which was absurd. I believe I took a detour because the job that was meant for me was still being created. In a way, all of that was leading me to this moment. You could say that I earned my stripes while working in copywriting. However, even then, deep down I knew that I was meant to be a full-time artist that is why I never lasted more than five months in any other job – I was literally job-hopping. I was always distressed and so when I got retrenched I took that as a sign for me to take the leap.
BL: And how did you learn to master your craft?
P: I went to Umuzi for a year and that is when I was exposed to creatives who were just like me. It is during that time that I was opened up to other possibilities – it was the beginning. I would say as an artist I had informal training. My partner taught me a lot about the programmes and served as a mentor to me. It was a situation of soaking up information from someone who was far more experienced than I was, someone who knows what it’s like to be a beginner.
BL: What would you tell someone who is struggling to take that jump and embrace a career in the arts?
P: If you are a creative, keep creating, don’t stop! That thing that you love doing, keep doing it. Remember that this is a gift and you don’t just get to neglect it or free yourself from it. Whatever gift that has been bestowed upon you, you must see it through. There is actually no formula because art is quite personal and very much linked to who you are as a person. Just because someone else has done it a certain way and became successful does not mean that you should also do it that way.